Community Matters in Suicide Prevention, Study Finds

September 23, 2016

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News

University of Chicago News

While social connectedness is generally considered to play a protective role in suicide risk, recent research suggests that, in certain contexts, it may make some individuals more vulnerable. Sociologists at the University of Chicago and University of Memphis conducted a qualitative study in which they investigated Emile Durkheim’s theory regarding the association between social integration and suicide risk. The authors examined an upper-middle-class, suburban community that had experienced nearly 20 adolescent suicide deaths over a 15-year period and found that it was characterized by extreme academic pressure and lack of help-seeking due to a fear of perceived failure. According to the authors, these findings suggest a need to reevaluate the impact that social cohesion can have on suicide risk, particularly among young people. “Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of this study is that it highlights the downside to social connectedness, something that is usually touted as a key tool for suicide prevention,” said Anna S. Mueller, an assistant professor in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago and coauthor of the study. “It also helps explain why some schools with intense academic pressure have problems with suicide while others do not. It’s not just the pressure: It’s the pressure combined with certain community factors that can make asking for help harder to do.”

Spark Extra! Read the research abstract.